Is Iceland worth the money?
I’m going to start this article with an admission that is going to make me sound incredibly uncool. I LOVE the Eurovision song contest. I’ve watched it my whole life and it is very rare I will miss it unless I’m working abroad.
So, what has that got to do with Iceland?
Well ever since I started watching it, the little VT’s before each country have evoked the explorer in me. I’ve wanted to go to Iceland ever since I can remember, so this year, when my friend asked me to go for her 30th I thought “why not” and we made it happen. We did everything. People who tell you a long weekend is not enough are lying. If you are actually going to get up off of your bottom and go out and do things and worry about the tiredness after you will be able to fit in absolutely everything exciting that Iceland has to offer.
Day 1 – Reykjavik Cathedral, The Northern Lights, and a Scary Air BnB
I’ve never used Air BnB in my life, but when it turned out our flights were cheaper to go the day before we thought we’d give an Air BnB a go for the first night instead of booking an extra room in the Radisson which was quite expensive. The theory was “how bad could it be?”. Tasked with organising everything so that we didn’t need to rely on busses or taxi’s I found an Air BnB in central Reykjavik. The “how bad could it be?” theory didn’t really serve us very well.
A short, easy walk form the bus station – the location was everything they promised. Unfortunately so was the cleanliness. Although the Air BnB had described itself as “not immaculately clean”, to me, that just meant that they probably didn’t keep up hotel standards and were worried about appearing badly in a review. As it would happen this estimation was wrong. I won’t name and shame someone’s livelihood on an article the whole world can see, but all I will say is make careful choices if you are going to use an Air BnB. It was so bad, my friend named it “the crack den”. Luckily, we were at the Northern Lights all night on the night we stayed, so once we crawled into bed after we didn’t really mind that it was filthy.
We left immediately to walk into Reykjavik and go up to the top of the Cathedral. Don’t worry, there’s a lift, so you don’t have to walk it. It was a beautiful view and it also gave us the advantage of now having seen where everything was in conjunction with each other and knowing where to walk For 900 ISK it really is worth it.
The Northern Lights were amazing. We booked through Isango and I would really recommend them. The coach picked us up from the hotel we were staying in for the next two nights so we walked up and found our way. On the way to the first stop, the tour guide informed us that we had a 0% chance of seeing the lights. She did say that we would see some cool stars and have some snacks so we weren’t really that worried. When we got to the stop, the chance of seeing the lights had increased to 1%. Wow. We found the stars amazing. While we were on the stop, we saw four shooting stars and the normal stars were so low it looked like you could pick them out of the sky.
Luckily for us, we did, in fact, see the lights. They were amazing. You can’t really describe what it’s like to be standing there looking at something that occurs naturally that is so beautiful. We understood how lucky we were, and also we managed to see them on another stop and get a picture with them.
Day 2 – Checking into the Radisson and a Night Out in Reykjavik
My friend woke me up promptly around 9am and said “Wakey wake Kelly, it’s time to leave the crack den now”. We left promptly and tried to leave the room as clean as possible but my friend did admit when we were halfway down the road that she had stolen the picture of Bjork above our room. Sorry guys!
We went for breakfast at Le Bistro which was wonderful as by this point I was craving a decent cup of coffee. Le Bistro is a lovely place for breakfast and I should imagine that the French food they serve for dinner is just as nice. After breakfast we just decided to take our chances and walk up to the Radisson Blu Saga and see if they would look after our cases for the day while we did other stuff. This is one of the best, most helpful hotels I have ever had the pleasure of staying in. Because our room was ready they let us check in, and after the crack den it was VERY welcome. My friend went off to do some horse riding and I enjoyed the big comfy, clean bed with the view of the mountains, followed by a long bath in the lovely bathroom. The hotel even lent me and my friend some plug adaptors because we are both pretty stupid and forgot them.
Now armed with the use of 2 lovely big mirrors, we got ready for a night out in Reykjavik. The other convenient thing about the Radisson is that you can easily walk to Reykjavik town in about 10 minutes. We hadn’t booked or chosen anywhere for dinner so we ended up just going to the first place that looked busy and did food we both liked – Caruso. It turned out to be a pretty good decision. Shown upstairs to the rustic little room we were going to dine in complete with ski’s and exposed wooden beams, we realised we had made a great choice. The food matched the atmosphere and was just great, home cooked, filling winter warmers that were very welcome after a chilly walk into town. The wine was also good, according to my friend, and the guy playing the guitar completed the perfect, cute, Icelandic evening.
We went on to a bar in Reykjavik and it can’t have made a great impression on me because I forget what it was called. I can’t say it was particularly lively and I must admit even though I do not drink I am far from boring, so we moved on looking for somewhere with a bit more of a party atmosphere. This was also the evening we decided to celebrate my friends 30th as it was the next day but we were going to be out all day.
When we came across The American Bar we didn’t really want to go in, not because it didn’t look good just because we are the kinda gals that like exploring and doing different things, rather than going to American/English places while abroad. As soon as we heard the live singers we were draw straight in and it was great! The music was amazing, the drinks were not too expensive and the atmosphere was great – aside from one couple who looked like they were forced to be there at gunpoint. If you are out and about in Reykjavik on a Friday or Saturday night it’s definitely worth a visit.
Day 3 – The Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle
No trip to Iceland is complete without going to the Blue Lagoon. It is every bit as amazing as everyone makes it out to be. We got a basic admission package included with our Isango booking. All anyone else who paid more got was a towel, robe and flip flops but we took our own towels and flip flops so I can’t say we really missed out. The mud masks looked good but you can pay for them there so if we really wanted one we could have had one. When you arrive, you get a wristband and you are able to purchase extra’s including treatments, drinks outside, or drinks inside. If you are going, do what we did and go early. Watching the sun come up over the mountains while actually being in the water was an incredible experience. The main thing we were worried about was freezing to death getting in, but getting in is actually indoors and then you walk outside while in the water. There is also a sauna and a steam room that is included in the admission price, so if you do get a bit chilly it’s fine. The water is every bit as warm as people say, but it is a rather weird experience having your face get that cold.
The changing rooms are really modern with all the amenities you need to get ready to carry on your day and most of all they are warm. If you are going to book the tour that includes the Golden Circle as well then leaving yourself about an hour to get ready will give you a good chance to get dry and warm because trust me, it’s freezing at the Golden Circle.
We went into Reykjavik to pick up the next coach and start our afternoon touring the Golden Circle. Our tour guide was a jolly, knowledgable guy who’s name escapes me because my friend insisted on calling him Boris. The first stop was Þingvellir National Park where excitingly you can walk between two continents. Unfortunately the childishness of both of us came out when we found out we would be hiking down a crevice, but it was really interesting.
The next stop was the Selfoss Gesyir. By this point it was really snowing. It isn’t that I don’t like nature, it’s just that I don’t like it when it is cold and in my face. The geyser goes off a few times every hour, and we were lucky enough to see it. It was something that was definitely worth seeing, but I am glad it was part of a tour and not just the main thing we were doing as it wasn’t exactly overwhelming.
Before the next stop the Gulfoss waterfall, we had kind of agreed we were going to look at whatever it was we needed to look at and get back indoors sharpish. I can’t really remember what I was expecting, but it wasn’t much. The Gulfoss waterfall is amazing. Standing there looking at something that incredible really is a once in a lifetime opportunity. The Gulfoss waterfall also has the added benefit that the amenities in that particular part of the National Park are really good and include a cafe where you can defrost.
Getting around Iceland
We flew with Norwegian Air on the way there and I was expecting great things after so many recommendations, but they were rubbish! The plane was freezing and the service was terrible. To get out and about while we were there, we booked most of our travel with Reykjavik Excursions and they were perfect! 100% book with them if you are going. On the way back we flew with Iceland Air to Heathrow. On the day we were due to fly there was a strike so we were delayed by a couple of hours. I have to admit, after being up at 2.30am and being told by them to go to the airport anyway when they KNEW the mechanics were going to be on strike we were a bit annoyed and there were a few exchanges on Twitter. They had known about the strike for months and it was really poor form not to be more prepared. Saying that, we were just being moaners. Some poor people got literally stranded there. We also got boarded a bit too soon and ended up being on the aircraft for over an hour, but Iceland Air’s aircraft to Heathrow from Keflavik are lovely. Because it is the first or second leg on some long haul flights, it is like flying long haul. Leather seats, loads of legroom, free tea and coffee and soft drinks and setback screens. Even though the trip is only 3 hours long it was like being on an Emrites flight and I loved the service and the plane itself. I would actually fly with them again despite the inconvenience of the strike, I would just hope that they have learned their lesson from the situation.
Is it as expensive as everyone says?
Short answer: yes. It is expensive, but it is just one of those things you are going to have to deal with if you are going to go. There probably are ways to do it on a budget if you don’t want to see much, but some of the trips and excursions are absolutely once in a lifetime things, so if you are going to go save up and do it properly. One thing I was surprised at was the Blue Lagoon, as the food and drink wasn’t anywhere near as rice as I thought it would be. The other thing I was surprised at was the food in general, as there really are not many cheap options for eating out.
Top travel tips for Iceland
- Book through Iceland Air to and from Heathrow. Because they are connecting flights you will most likely get the benefits of a lovely long haul plane. We booked through CheapOair.com and got a great deal.
- Take flip flops, your own towel and a robe to the Blue Lagoon. Then you can just book the basic package. It’s also worth taking a spare hat you don’t mind getting wet as your face and head get really cold.
- Book up to stay somewhere you can walk into town from. Taxi’s and busses can be hit and miss so the less you have to use them the better.
- Check out the local swimming pools and geothermal spa’s. There are a couple dotted around Reykjavik that are a fraction of the price of the Blue Lagoon if that is too pricey for you.
- Go up to the top of Reykjavik Cathedral on the first day. It’s really practical because you can find your way around, and it is also beautiful.
- Eat seafood. It is REALLY fresh in Iceland as one would expect, and if you are going to try seafood anywhere it may as well be somewhere where the turnaround from catch to plate is about 24 hours.
- Take snow boots, thermals and a proper coat, hat and gloves. When it snows, it really snows. Iceland isn’t messing about, especially when you start mooching around the Golden Circle.
- Pay out that little extra to stay somewhere luxurious like the Radisson. It really does make all the difference when you have been walking around in the freezing cold all day.
- Use a company like OneTravel to get a super cheap deal on a holiday to Iceland, then just convert to pounds. For some reason travel companies based abroad seem to have better deals than your native country.